PopCult: The Obsessive Journal of Quality Pop Culture

When Prince became [a symbol], the nation’s art directors received a very special gift

In 1993, Prince Rogers Nelson changed his name to a unique glyph of his own design (aka “The Love Symbol”) that was intended to represent his male/female duality. This presented an unprecedented challenge for the marketing department at his music label at the time, Warner Bros.: How can you get the media to write about your rock star if his name is literally unprintable? (Prince probably enjoyed their dilemma since the name change reflected his desire to get out of his contract.)

Thus was born the saga of the Prince floppy disk. Among hardcore Prince fans, it is a fabled quest item—a collectible rarity that connects all of Prince’s foibles together into an unusual objet d’art. And all it contains is one file: the Love Symbol.

When Prince decided to banish his given name, we as a nation responded with acquiescence: “Well, okay, sure!” Such was the power of his mystique. In conversation, however, most people still just called him Prince, or “the Glyph” if they wanted to be derisive. But music writers for national publications willingly got on board with the name change, commonly referring to him as The Artist Formerly Known as Prince. (Or sometimes just “The Artist” on second reference.) And for journalists truly committed to The Artist’s new self-identification, there was the floppy. Paisley Park, Prince’s boutique label at Warners Bros., mailed it out to the nation’s music publications in the hope that they would add the special character to their computers and start using it in their articles. And a lot of them did.

Today, the idea of going to such lengths in order to ensure the compliance of print publications seems ludicrous. But long before social media, YouTube, or the Internet for that matter, record companies relied on the power of the press to bring new product to market, hoping to create buzz among fans, radio disc jockeys, and the programmers at MTV. Now, of course, the influence of magazine or newspaper writers on the music industry (or consumers) is negligible.

As an editor at an alt-weekly paper at the time, I was one of the anointed—I recall the disk arrived in the office one day in a plain business envelope, accompanied only by a sheet of instructions for its use (I’m not entirely sure whether the sticker came with the floppy, though):

It’s worth noting that this was not the first appearance of the Love Symbol in a press kit. For Prince and the New Power Generation’s 1992 glyph-adorned album (aka Love Symbol #2), Warner Bros. mailed out a sheet of Love Symbols to the media. This was a cheaper way of disseminating the glyph for use in print—art directors were expected to cut out the symbols for paste-up. Yes, this was back when publications would physically paste printouts of their stories and ads onto large poster boards to be photographed and turned into printing plates at the press. Here’s what it looked like:

I don’t have a floppy disk reader, so I haven’t been able to access the tiff file. Fortunately, someone was able to make it available for download. Now you can enjoy having this tiny bit of graphic design history in your Font Book.

Coury Turczyn

Coury Turczyn is a concerned consumer of popular culture. Got an interesting story idea or an amazing financial opportunity to share? Contact him at coury@popcultmag.com.

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